Last week, Emma was working on four main issues with her manuscript. Most of our time kept circling back to issue #2 – the age/category question. Should she skew to YA or adult? Her manuscript was somewhere in the middle, which obviously is not good.
Emma experienced a lot of doubt around this decision. Our email exchange, below, captures the ups and downs. We shared many more emails than this, but these sample emails back-and-forth captures the spirit of the debate – and the road to resolution.
The first thing Emma shared with me was the result of the three-part writing exercise I suggested (see last week’s write-up for details on that) and shared with me three of the pieces she generated during that work. What follows are her pieces with my edits. Note that I used "TK" in several places as a placeholder for things still to come (tk= "to come.") Note too that some of the pieces include a lot of redlining because I moved things around and made some suggestions for things Emma might add:
Emma's 3 Exercises
Emma also shared a lot of marketplace research she did on YA – including the fact that Knopf recently published a YA set in Salem, MA. She also shared some of the thoughts/opinions of some writers from her critique group around this question of YA or adult.
Her critique group is a very accomplished bunch of writers, and when Emma asked them about the age dilemma, many of them thought she should focus on writing YA.
Here is my response to what she showed me:
Here are my notes on all 3 of your pieces.
The two I LOVED were both versions of the funeral home. (The granny one has some great texture and detail but felt much lighter and thinner to me.)
On the Adult side, I felt like you actually got really bone close to the POINT of your story and I sort of love the funeral home business problem. BUT we have to make sure why this matters to CICI and not just to her dad. Yes she wants to help her dad. But what is she grappling with emotionally in relation to all this? What in HER life makes this matter to her right now? And how will it relate back to the specific stories she encounters — rape, heart attack, and especially the women/mothers. ESPECIALLY the women/mothers… could Cici have something in her own life with a guy that has not gone well? Or is she not finding a guy she wants to make a life with? Or….?? We talked about CiCi having lost her own mother or a child. Do you want to go there?
That leads me to another “adult” thought: I keep thinking about the awesome scenes at the end and am still bugged that Jimmy and Griff get to be in that solstice circle. Why not her sister or nieces or mom or grandma? Maybe the answer to that question has something to do with what Cici is seeking/her emotional journey.
On the YA side — this was so good and so fun. It REALLY sets the scene nicely for the story. Your voices is more naturally YA in many ways. Griff and Jimmy are very YA and we will have to age them up if you go adult. But you could use this set up and more easily lock in the YA angle, I think — you don’t need as deep an emotional character arc for YA. It can be a dark, fun adventure for Cici where she learns something about life/death/herself. I think adult needs a more intense emotional journey.
SO it seems like your critique partners and writing friend mostly think your voice is YA. And for most of my entire first read, I thought this book WAS YA. And it would be easier to take it YA…
BUT. But. But. I am feeling like you are more drawn to the adult emotions and challenges. And I am feeling like the adult marketing/sales realities align better with your hopes and dreams and goals for your writing career.
I am hoping the bullet point exercise give us more clues….
You're brilliant. I love all of this feedback. You're so right about everything. I vote adult. 100%. Should we just commit to do the work to make this an awesome adult book?
Ohhh look at you putting a stake in the ground!!!!!
Ok, so if you do that, here’s what we need:
1 Your point. You are almost THERE. Just declare it.
2. How this ties into CiCi’s emotional life? Think about Bridget’s quest and problem (as outlined in your Magic document) and how this can be the thing that pushes Cici where she has been afraid to go in her own life. How can being connected with Bridget in this way be the WORST POSSIBLE THING to happen to Cici right now, given everything else going on in her life. How can the accident of being connected be JUST the thing that Cici REALLY doesn’t need (or actually really does, but doesn’t know it.) Look hard at Bridget and the other women in the witch’s circle and what the need. And look at the stories you wrote in your time slips — what are those really about? Why would a 20-something woman really NOT want to watch those again and again and again — and if forced to, what would she learn about herself? Also look at your point and what Cici knows/believes/has been trained about life and death.
Emma, think BIG here. What does this young woman — Cici — know about the world b/c of her upbringing in a mortuary and a dad that was all scienc-y about death and a mom who was sort of blindly religious? How does that woman go out into the world — what problems would she encounter? What beliefs/misbeliefs would she have to face about herself and the world in order to — what? Hold down a job? Connect with a love interest? Reconcile life and death?
3. We need to age up the two boys. I’d like a little quick background sketch on each of them. Why are they in Salem? What do they want? What’s their agenda with Cici?
There will be more but that’s good for now!
Sigh. You ask so many hard questions!!!! (Imagine my best, whiny nasally voice.)
Okay. I will hammer all of this out. I will play around with the first chapter and see if I can get to where we need to be with those ideas, and I'll get character sketches going--especially for the boys and what makes Cici tick.
I'm so excited! I can't wait to make some progress on this thing. Thanks for all of your awesome prodding.
I know these questions are hard and that my asking them makes me a pain in the ass. But this is what is going to get you from great to stellar. Really just this. That emotional layer. You are SO CLOSE. SO very close. You just have to bring it up from your subconscious. You have to trust your powers (sound familiar? Hmm…. same issue CiCi has….)
So write forward in the funeral scene and get us to the ghosting FAST. By the end of the first chapter she needs to hear something/see something/feel something different than she ever has before…. which according to your magic means she needs to get to that nail on that key date….
AND she needs to get there by her own volition — b/c she begged to lead a ghost tour, because she had to, because of something she is trying to sort out in her emotional life. She had to come home to Salem to help her dad AND wrestle this emotional thing to the ground….
You're the BEST pain in the ass.
I like that Cici and I are having the same trust issues. I'll have to draw from that. These are really great questions. I will get there!!!
A Moment of Doubt
Doubt is part of the creative process, whether you are just starting out with an idea or deep into it, as Emma is. Doubt happens. It’s part of the gig. How you deal with it will dictate a lot about your success as a writer.
Even after making such a firm decision, Emma was still bothered by something I said – about how I wasn’t advocating for adult, but was reflecting back that I thought that SHE wanted adult – and she asked me flat-out what I thought she should do.
I love to read your emails over and over. BUT ONE LINE. I HAVE TO KNOW. The only reason you're advocating Adult is because it's what I want? Would you go for YA?
You SUBMITTED in adult. You didn’t submit in YA.
So when I say that I am advocating for it because I think it’s what you want it’s because i don’t want to push you or sway you. I want you to decide. I mean who am I to know what’s in your hear. But I AM reflecting back to you what I am seeing/hearing.
You didn’t submit in YA.
You didn’t think you were writing YA.
The end of your book is some kick-ass grown up woman serious mother power stuff, which doesn’t feel very YA to me.
And there is that other Knopf book about Salem already in YA. So I LIKE adult for you. I do.
Imagine a series set in Salem.
And then I imagine you writing in YA.
And writing something scholarly about folktales.
And going back to adult.
You’re going to have a long and rich and good career, Emma. This is only the start. I know you have written other books, and you will write many more. This is just one.
So YES it’s a massively big decision. But I don’t think it will make or break the success of this book. We can get it where it needs to go with either direction.
So if you wake up tomorrow and say YA, I will say OK! Let’s GO!!!!
But if someone were holding a gun to my head? I would say, “It read like YA yearning to be adult.” And so I would say, “Make it adult.”
One day I’ll say that Jennie told me I was writing YA that was yearning to be adult, and I haven't looked back since. :)
I love the idea of a slow build. I love the idea of this exploring more than a teenage love triangle. And honestly, if all the agents say "I wish it were YA..." I could still take it back. I'm good at revising!
Thanks for being so supportive while wanting me to make the decision. It means so much. So let's do it. Let's say this bad boy is adult. I can work hard. I can write fast. And if it's not working, we can at least figure out the structure and backstory better and go from there. I think it'll be awesome.
Additional Work Emma Did To Move Her Novel Forward
Note that NONE of the following is work that will necessarily BE in the novel. It’s all work done to get Emma to deeply understand her story so she can get it on the page. But it’s all critical to understand in order to do a great revision:
1. Emma’s sketch of the magical systems in her novel.
Every novel with ANY sort of magic or fantasy must have 100% logic. The reader will sense holes in the system – and if there aren’t any, they will be much more likely to embrace the world as real. In Emma’s case, she has witches from the historical record who behave in certain ways, ghosts, time slips (where characters in story present slip back in time), spirits who take real form and spirit form, and people who connect in different ways to spirits. Emma needs ALL of that to be 100% clear – and she needs to realize that since she is the god of this world, she can design it (and really MUST design it) to serve the story she is writing.
This document is a little hard to follow unless you know Emma’s story, but what is important to note is the level of detail it encompasses:
2. Emma’s sketch of the two men in her novel.
She needed to flesh out these characters (NOT their physical characteristics or random history about them, but their WHY – their reason for being in Cici’s story, and what their own agendas are), and while she was doing it, age them up:
3. Emma’s character photos.
In the midst of our exchanges, I added an exercise to help Emma make her decision. It was a series of questions to try to get her to SEE her novel in the world, and how she would connect with her readers. I had hoped that by doing this, she would begin to get a better sense of who those readers might be:
Emma, one other thing I want you to do. A new exercise:
Imagine your launch date. Give me ten bullet points of things you will be doing that week/month. Think blog hops (which ones), interviews (by whom), thanking your blurb-res (who are they?), posting reviews (who is reviewing? what books do they compare it to), shooting a video for your early adopter fans, traveling to give a speech at a school (one is a high school class, one is a college course on narrative and folklore, traveling to give a speech somewhere that isn’t a school. Then imagine you got a movie deal. Who is starring?? Do it for adult and for YA — and let’s see which one feels like it has the most heat.
She didn’t specifically answer all of those questions because we talked about marketing in different contexts that helped reach the same conclusions. But she DID dig into the movie deal question and who would play her characters. Here is what she sent:
I asked Emma to take her new Adult opening sketch (shared at the very top of this entry) and write a fully fleshed out first chapter. We'll see what she comes up with in Volume 3.